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Lt. Colonel John M. Hamilton Papers

Lt. Colonel John M. Hamilton Papers, 1863-1925
1.5 cubic feet (1 document box, 1 flat box)
Location: 0221-0222
Collection #: 071
Accession #: 1994.27.08


Papers and photographs of Lt. Colonel John M. Hamilton, a soldier whose career spanned almost 40 years, from the Civil War through the Indian Wars, until finally ending with his death on San Juan Hill during the Spanish-American War. The collection includes biographical material such as newspaper and first-person accounts of Hamilton’s military career. There is substantial correspondence, mostly arising out of Hamilton’s death and the attempts of his widow, Isabel B. Hamilton, to obtain a pension. Notable correspondents include Frederic Remington and Theodore Roosevelt. Other letters provide multiple first-person accounts of the Battle of San Juan Hill and the death of Hamilton. Official documents show the progression of Hamilton’s life and career, including officer appointments signed by presidents Andrew Johnson and Grover Cleveland. Ephemeral items in the collection include broadsides and invitations that provide a glimpse into life at a frontier fort, two drawings from life that depict aspects of the frontier military, and the autographs of two major 19th century military figures: General George Crook and General Adna R. Chaffee. Photographs include portraits of John and Isabel Hamilton, and an interesting group of photographs showing life at Fort Robinson, Nebraska at the end of the 19th century, including a striking portrait of a 9th U. S. Cavalry Regiment bugler.


John Morrison Hamilton was born in Charleston, Ontario on June 1, 1839. Around 1860, Hamilton moved to Geneva, New York, in the Finger Lakes region, where he had relatives. He intended to go into business. Less than a month after the Civil War began, Hamilton enlisted as a private in the 33rd New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Before his two-year enlistment expired in June 1863, Hamilton saw action in some major battles of the war including First and Second Manassas, Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville, where he suffered a minor injury. Hamilton reenlisted in December 1863 as a second lieutenant of the 9th U. S. Colored Infantry, among the first African American regiments raised during the Civil War. After the war, Hamilton was brevetted a captain of volunteers, later achieving the permanent rank of first lieutenant.

Hamilton served in the army after the war, first as captain of the 39th Infantry Regiment stationed in Brownsville, Texas and later doing Reconstruction duty in Louisiana. Captain Hamilton managed a transfer to the 5th U. S. Cavalry Regiment, serving as a recruiting officer in Brooklyn, New York. While in Brooklyn, Hamilton fell in love with Isabel Bowie whom he married on June 28, 1871. For almost three decades “Bella” Hamilton would accompany her husband to military posts all over the West.

In 1872-1874, Captain Hamilton served with the 5th U. S. Cavalry under the command of General George Crook in campaigns to suppress the Tonto Apaches, earning a citation for “conspicuous services and gallantry” for actions in February and March 1873. Much later, he was brevetted a major for bravery for his performance during the Tonto Apache campaign. In 1876, Hamilton was again assigned to Crook’s command, this time for punitive action against Dull Knife’s Cheyenne in the Big Horn Mountains, in the aftermath of the Battle of the Little Big Horn. Later, Hamilton participated in actions against the Bannock Indians in 1878 and the Ute Indians in 1879-1880. Canadian citizen Hamilton finally became a naturalized American citizen in 1882, and he and his family, which now included two daughters, moved to Fort Robinson, Nebraska. Later in the 1880s Hamilton and his family relocated to Fort Riley, Kansas. Hamilton was finally promoted to major in 1887 and was transferred to the 1st U. S. Cavalry Regiment. While with the 1st Cavalry, he was stationed at Forts Custer and Assinniboine and participated in quelling the Lakota uprising of 1890-1891, the last major engagements of the Indian Wars.

During the first part of the 1890s, he was in garrison, serving as an acting Inspector General in the Departments of the Columbia and the Platte. He returned to the 1st Cavalry at Fort Sill, Indian Territory in 1895, and late the next year was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel of the 9th U. S. Cavalry at Fort Robinson. While stationed at Fort Robinson, he entertained noted author and artist Frederic Remington. Hamilton figures prominently in Remington’s article, “The Essentials at Fort Adobe,” which appeared in the April 1898 issue of Harper’s New Monthly Magazine.

Shortly after Remington’s article appeared, an impending war with Spain over Cuba, now known as the Spanish-American War, began to dominate the news. The 9th Cavalry made its way first to Chattanooga, Tennessee and later to Tampa, Florida to prepare for a possible invasion of Cuba. With the regimental colonel incapacitated due to illness, command of the regiment fell to Lt. Colonel Hamilton. The 9th Cavalry—without their horses—embarked for Cuba aboard the S. S. Miami. Hamilton penned a last short letter to his wife onboard ship, while in sight of Moro Castle at the mouth of Santiago Harbor. On July 1, 1898, the 9th Cavalry, with Hamilton in command, along with elements of the 6th and 10th U. S. Cavalry Regiments and Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, occupied a skirmish line at the base of San Juan Hill. Although they had no definite orders, the American troops charged up San Juan Hill, with the nearly 60 year old Hamilton charging with his troops, waving his hat in encouragement. The charge overran the first line of Spanish entrenchments, but while Hamilton continued to direct and encourage his troops, a bullet through the throat cut him down, killing him instantly. Lt. Colonel Hamilton was buried later that day almost where he fell with a simple wooden headboard; a bottle was buried with the body to ensure proper identification. Later that month, the Cavalry Division headquarters at El Caney, Cuba, was renamed Camp Hamilton in his honor. In the words of Lieutenant James H. Reeves, who served with him, Hamilton was “a gallant, true, brave soldier.”

In April 1899, the body of Lt. Colonel Hamilton was reinterred in Geneva, New York. Sometime after 1903 his body was buried for the last time, with full military honors, in Arlington National Cemetery. Isabel Hamilton died in Oklahoma City in May 1918; she was buried alongside him in Arlington.

Price, B. Byron. “Remembering a Soldier,” Persimmon Hill, Spring 1995, pp. 61-65.

Scope & Content Note

The collection has been arranged in five series, Biographical, Correspondence, Documents, Ephemera, and Photographs.

The core of the collection is a scrapbook of memorabilia related to the career of Lt. Colonel John M. Hamilton, probably assembled by his granddaughter. After accessioning, the book was photocopied to document the original layout and appearance of the pages. The scrapbook was then sent to a paper conservator; it was disassembled, the letters, documents, photographs, and other items in the scrapbook were removed, stabilized, and, if necessary, repaired. In addition to the scrapbook, a drawing, 14 photographs, and a letter relating to Lt. Colonel Hamilton were also donated. See the Processing Note for more details.

The scrapbook was originally arranged in rough chronological order. It was decided to use an archival arrangement by series, rather than maintaining the original order of the scrapbook. This was done for several reasons: the scrapbook was already disassembled, so any artifactual value had already been lost; user access is improved by series arrangement, as compared with the partial chronological arrangement of the original scrapbook; and the non-scrapbook materials related Hamilton are better integrated into the collection using a series arrangement. To assist researchers interested in reconstructing the scrapbook, the following tools are available: photocopies of the original pages can be found in the accession file; the container list notes the original scrapbook pages in square brackets (the front of the page is indicated by “A,” the back by “B”); and individual collection items have scrapbook page numbers noted in pencil on the verso. The paper conservator’s report, which documents treatment and repair of collection items, is also available.

Alphabetical subject or name arrangement is primarily used; the one exception is the Documents series, which is arranged chronologically to better assist an understanding of Lt. Colonel Hamilton’s military career. The bulk of the collection dates from 1898.

Series 1: Biographical (1871-1918)
This series has been divided into two subseries: military and personal. Both subseries primarily comprise newspaper and magazine clippings. The military subseries includes Frederic Remington’s April 1898 Harper’s New Monthly Magazine article about the 9th U. S. Cavalry at Fort Robinson, Nebraska. The “Colonel” referred to in the article is Lt. Colonel Hamilton; during Remington’s research trip to Fort Robinson he became quite friendly with Hamilton and his wife. After Hamilton’s death in Cuba later in the year, Isabel Hamilton wrote to solicit Remington’s assistance in obtaining a widow’s pension (see Correspondence series). Also included is a published account of the pivotal November 1876 battle with Dull Knife and the Cheyenne in the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming in which Hamilton is mentioned. Other material includes a newspaper cartoon of the members of a court martial on which Hamilton served. The bulk of the military subseries comprises 1898 newspaper articles about the 9th U. S. Cavalry and the death of Lt. Colonel Hamilton at the Battle of San Juan Hill. Two typescript accounts of Lt. Colonel Hamilton’s death by firsthand observers are also included.

The personal subseries consists entirely of newspaper clippings documenting important events in the Hamilton family: an 1871 announcement of the marriage of John M. Hamilton and Isabel Bowie, several accounts of the reinterment of Lt. Colonel Hamilton in Geneva, New York, two articles about Isabel Hamilton’s attempt to secure a widow’s pension, and obituaries for Isabel Hamilton and Hamilton’s mother.

Series 2: Correspondence (1873-1925)
Comprises primarily letters concerning the death of Lt. Colonel Hamilton and its aftermath. Included is Hamilton’s last letter home, written on the S. S. Miami en route to Cuba; several eyewitness accounts of Hamilton’s death on San Juan Hill, including one by his orderly, Private William H. Lee; and letters written to Isabel Hamilton in response to her pleas for a widow’s pension, including several letters from Theodore Roosevelt, who gained national fame after the Battle of San Juan Hill, three holographic letters from artist Frederic Remington, and letters from several generals and senators, including two from General ‘Fightin’ Joe’ Wheeler, who served in the Spanish-American War in the twilight of his career. Other notable correspondents include Lieutenant (later Major General) Leonard Wood. A letter from an unknown correspondent to one of Hamilton’s daughters provides an interesting description of San Juan Hill as it appeared in 1925. Several other letters refer to Hamilton’s experiences in the Indian Wars, including his own firsthand account of the battle with the Cheyenne Indians in the Big Horn Mountains in November 1876.

Series 3: Documents (1863-1900) 
Includes 15 documents, which show the arc of Hamilton’s military career from his service with Co. H of the 33rd New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment during the Civil War to the widow’s pension awarded to Isabel Hamilton by way of a private bill in the U. S. House of Representatives in 1900. Notable documents in the series include Hamilton’s 1863 discharge from Co. H of the 33rd New York Volunteer Infantry; officer appointment documents signed by presidents Andrew Johnson and Grover Cleveland; General Orders No. 14, Department of Arizona, which cites Hamilton for “conspicuous services and gallantry” in engagements with the Tonto Apaches in February and March 1873; and General Orders No. 9, Headquarters, Cavalry Division, which changes the name of the main cavalry encampment in Cuba to Camp Hamilton in honor of Lt. Colonel Hamilton.

Series 4: Ephemera (1864-circa 1896)
Includes several items Hamilton collected through his life, some related to his personal life, some to his military career. Personal items include a sash from the Loyal Orange Lodge No. 331, Charleston, Ontario that belonged to his father, David Hamilton; holographic copies of The Gettysburg Address and Abraham Lincoln’s favorite poem, “Oh, Why Should the Spirit of Mortal be Proud” (also known as “Mortality”); and a lock of Isabel Hamilton’s hair. Items related to Hamilton’s military career include the autographs of Generals George Crook and Adna R. Chaffee, two 1886 broadsides advertising plays presented at Fort Riley, Kansas in which Isabel Hamilton acted; two invitations to a 9th U. S. Cavalry Band concert at Fort Robinson, Nebraska; and two pencil drawings done by soldiers while in the field during the Indian Wars. One is a colored pencil drawing of cavalry soldiers on foot patrol during the 1873 Tonto Apache campaign and the other shows a soldier doing laundry at the White River Agency near Meeker, Colorado.

Series 5: Photographs (circa 1871-1898)
Includes 24 photographs. Photographs include two of Isabel Hamilton, one in middle age and the other in old age; several photographs and one negative of Hamilton in uniform; an image of the main street of Charleston, Ontario with the Hamilton family home indicated; and a photograph of the Hamilton grave marker in Arlington National Cemetery. Images documenting Hamilton’s military service include a group portrait of soldiers taken at Fort Assinniboine, Montana, an 1898 group portrait of officers taken at Tampa, Florida (with Hamilton indicated), and a group of 12 snapshots of life at Fort Robinson, Nebraska, including photographs of Hamilton, soldiers at target practice, family life at the Fort, and a 9th U. S. Cavalry bugler.

Subject Terms

Personal Names:
Crook, George, 1829-1890
Hamilton, Isabel B., d. 1918
Hamilton, John M., 1839-1898
Remington, Frederic, 1861-1909
Roosevelt, Theodore, 1858-1919
Wheeler, Joseph, 1836-1906

Corporate Names:
United States—Army—Cavalry, 1st
United States—Army—Cavalry, 5th
United States—Army—Cavalry, 9th

Subject Headings:
African American soldiers
Apache Indians—Wars, 1872-1873
Cheyenne Indians—Wars, 1876
Fort Robinson (Neb.)
Graphite drawings
Military pensions
San Juan Hill, Battle of, Cuba, 1898
Soldiers—United States
Soldiers’ bodies—Disposition of
Spanish-American War, 1898
United States—History—1865-1898

Processing Information

Geraldine C. Putney of Oklahoma City, Hamilton’s granddaughter, donated a scrapbook documenting the life of Lt. Colonel John M. Hamilton in 1994; Elizabeth Putney Winn, Putney’s daughter, donated additional photographs in 1997. The collection accession number is 1994.27.08, which was the number originally given to the scrapbook; the collection also includes a drawing with accession number 1994.27.07, 14 photographs accessioned as 1997.09.02-.15, and one letter concerning the reinterment of Lt. Colonel Hamilton in Arlington National Cemetery, donated by another member of the Winn family, but apparently never formally accessioned.

The scrapbook was disassembled; the documents, photographs, and other materials in the scrapbook were removed and stabilized by a professional paper conservator in 1994. Jonathan Nelson processed the collection in November 2004.

Preferred Citation

Lt. Colonel John M. Hamilton Papers, Box ##, Folder ##, Dickinson Research Center, National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

Container List

Series 1: Biographical

Box/Folder # Folder Title/Description
001/001 “The Essentials at Fort Adobe” by Frederic Remington, Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, April 1898 [8A], 1898
002/001 “General Mackenzie’s Last Fight with the Cheyennes” [Dull Knife Battle, November 1876], Army and Navy Register, February 2, 1889 [7A], 1889
001/002 Maney court martial [6A], undated
001/003 Scrapbook title page [1A], undated
001/004 Spanish-American War [7B; 10B; 11A-B; 12A; 14A-B; 15A; 20A; 21A], circa 1898
001/005 Hamilton marriage announcement [3B], June 28, 1871
001/006 Obituary, Isabel B. Hamilton, The Daily Oklahoman [27B; 30A], May 1918
001/007 Obituary, Jane Moulton Hamilton (mother of Lt. Col. John Hamilton) [29A]. circa 1905
001/008 Pension for Isabel B. Hamilton [14A; 27A], circa 1900
001/009 Reinterment of Lt. Col. John M. Hamilton [11B; 12A; 14B; 20A], 1899

Series 2: Correspondence

Box/Folder # Folder Title/Description
001/010 Sen. Roscoe Conkling [7B], 1873
001/011 Maj. J. C. Gilmore [7A], 1894
001/012 Lt. Col. John M. Hamilton [7A; 9A], 1874-1898
001/013 Lt. Edward E. Hartwick [22A], 1898
001/014 Capt. J. B. Kerr [12B; 22A], 1898
001/015 Pvt. William H. Lee [21A], 1899
001/016 Rev. Henry C. McCook [28A], 1901
001/017 Gen. Wesley Merritt [25A], 1900
001/018 National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution [30A], 1901
001/019 Capt. George M. Randall [7A], 1890
001/020 Lt. James H. Reeves [13A; 22A], 1898-1899
001/021 Frederic Remington [24A], 1898-1899
001/022 Theodore Roosevelt [18A; 19A; 23A], 1898-1912
001/023 Sen. John M. Thurston [17A; 25A], 1898
001/024 War Department, Adjutant General’s Office [16A-B], 1898
001/025 War Department, Paymaster General’s Office [18B], 1898
001/026 War Department, Quartermaster General’s Office [Winn], 1903
001/027 Sen. Francis E. Warren [26A], 1898
001/028 Gen. Joseph Wheeler [26A], 1900
001/029 Lt. Leonard Wood [17B], 1898
001/030 Lt. Winthrop S. Wood [22A], 1898
001/031 Unknown [28A], 1925

Series 3: Documents

Box/Folder # Folder Title/Description
001/032 Discharge from Co. H, 33rd New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment [2A], 1863
002/002 Appointment as Captain, 39th U. S. Infantry Regiment (signed by President Andrew Johnson) [4B], 1867
001/033 Commission as Captain, 39th U. S. Infantry Regiment [3A], 1867 [2]
001/034 General Court Martial Orders No. 67 [6A], 1868
001/035 General Orders No. 14, Department of Arizona [7A], 1873
001/036 Certificate of Membership in the Military Service Institution [3A], 1879
001/037 Certificate of Naturalization [2B], 1882
001/038 Promotion to Major, 1st U. S. Cavalry Regiment [4B], 1887
002/003 Appointment as Major, 1st U. S. Cavalry Regiment (signed by President Grover Cleveland) [4B], 1888
002/004 Register of the U. S. Army [30A], July 15, 1893
002/005 Citation as Major by Brevet for Gallantry in Action (signed by President Grover Cleveland) [5A], 1895
002/006 Appointment as Lt. Colonel of Cavalry (signed by President Grover Cleveland) [5A], 1896
001/039 General Orders No. 9, Headquarters, Cavalry Division, U. S. Army near El Caney, Cuba [13A], 1898
001/040 Report No. 747, U. S. House of Representatives, Isabel B. Hamilton [27A], 1900

Series 4: Ephemera

1864-ca. 1896
Box/Folder # Folder Title/Description
001/041 Autograph of Gen. Adna R. Chaffee [7A], undated
001/042 Autograph of Gen. George Crook [7A], undated
001/043 Autograph of Maj. John M. Hamilton [7B], undated
002/007 Broadside Advertising Play at Fort Riley, Kansas [4A], April 30, 1886
001/044 Broadside Advertising Play at Fort Riley, Kansas [3B], May 18, 1886
001/045 Calling Card of Lt. Colonel John M. Hamilton [8A], undated
002/008 Charleston, Ontario Loyal Orange Lodge No. 331 Sash (owned by David Hamilton, father of Lt. Col. John M. Hamilton) [28B], undated
001/046 Drawing: “Foot Scouting in Arizona, March 24, 1873 (Doctor Matthews Fatigued)” by S. P. Allen [1994.27.07], 1873
001/047 Drawing: “Roughing It in the Army or Life in the Far West; Wash Day–White River Agency” by McCauley [6B], circa 1879
001/048 “The Gettysburg Address” (holographic copy dated July 1864) [5B], 1864
001/049 “Grant’s Weakness: A Friend’s Admonition” by John A. Rawlins (typescript copy signed by Hamilton as Major, 1st U. S. Cavalry) [5B], circa 1890
001/050 Invitation to 9th U. S. Cavalry Band Concert [2B; 8A], circa 1896 [2]
001/051 Letterhead for Headquarters, Department of the Platte [8B], 1894
001/052 Lincoln’s Favorite Poem: “Oh, Why Should the Spirit of Mortal be Proud” (holographic copy) [5B], undated
001/053 Lock of Isabel B. Hamilton’s Hair [30A], undated

Series 5: Photographs

ca. 1871-1898
Box/Folder # Folder Title/Description
001/054 Isabel B. Hamilton [30A; 1997.09.02], circa 1871, undated [2]
001/055 Lt. Col. John M. Hamilton [2A; 7B; 8A; 28A; 30A; 1997.09.03], circa 1871-1895, undated [8]
001/056 Military Service [7A; 9A; 1997.09.04-.15], circa 1890-1898 [14]

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